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Eric Vallo

Why I Am Still an SAP-type

Posted by Eric Vallo Jul 20, 2012

I've had some of the most inspiring and amazing conversations in my career of late. These opportunities for good chat have given me reason to reflect on why after a 14 year career, I am still in business intelligence.  If you can hang with me for an auto-biographical blurb, I'm going to bring this blog around to its sweet spot.

 

I was hired right out of college to be a BusinessObjects developer (yes, the first 4) by a giant telco here in St. Louis.  They asked me during my interview, quite simply:

 

1) Do you know SQL? That was a yes.

2) Have you ever heard of BusinessObjects?  That was a no.

 

Despite that, they hired me to be an entry-level report lackey.  So with my head already wrapped pretty well around small databases, I was thrust into an environment of building reports on top of a huge Teradata warehouse, one touted to be the biggest in the world.  How special for me (or something).  I had already spent the prior two years designing operational applications on small databases for state government.  The less-glorious explanation of that was I was creating apps and reports on Microsoft Access 97.  Don't laugh.  Most of us did it.  But now, with BusinessObjects in my hands, for the first time I was introduced to a technology that could facilitate both nice looking reports and self-service reporting.  It was then that I really got my start in data visualization and an understanding of the ways that users really wanted to consume data (hint: easily and without thinking about it).

 

I took to it.  I loved it.  Next, they gave me the reigns to be a Universe developer.  Wow!  I got to build these cool drag and drop wrappers around this big database.  It was interesting.  There was no ceremonious transition to be the Universe developer.  The old developer decided she was done and ready to move to a new technology (for some odd reason).  So now, with the responsibility for both the reporting and the universe on me, I began to learn how to better craft and control the user experience beyond just the data being shoved into a report.  I was working to improve the user experience as best I could on this mammoth database.  That was pretty sweet and pushed me to learn more about good universe design, query tuning (yep, I could read explain plans...once upon a time), and how to interface with DBAs to get what I wanted to improve my content.

 

Within my first year there, I was given my first server to run the Broadcast Agent on once BusinessObjects 5 hit (come on, you know what I'm talking about).  Much to my cubicle-farm neighbor's dismay, I had a gigantic, loud, always-on server sitting under my desk.  I couldn't even really have a decent phone conversation in my cube any more.  But all that power at my fingers was totally worth it.  I soon found myself in the mix with a lot of super smart people, also running their own servers, working together to design a large, scalable architecture to run Webi, BCA, and support MANY users in what would be the first enterprise deployment of BusinessObjects at this customer site.  WOW.  Now I'm learning how to interface as an enterprise architect (there was a promotion in there), I got to take some of my existing knowledge about Unix and Windows and apply it to build my first cluster, and found that there was much more to just report building in my future.

 

With my applications I supported now being delegated to my team to sustain, and all these beefy servers humming along, my path took another turn.  Just when I didn't think it could get any better, I had an idea. It was a cool idea to write our own app to integrate BusinessObjects in via the SDK.  Next thing I know I've got a team of Java developers that report to me and we are doing BOTH BusinessObjects and Java development. How cool is that?  I got to learn about enterprise standards for application development, how the SDKs worked, how they leveraged our giant environment, and how to talk to programmers.  That meant I had to learn how to do both design for databases and reports, but also design for Java application developers.  In case it is not obvious, that's two different personalities altogether.

 

So you see this progression:

 

Database Guy -> Report Guy -> Universe Guy -> Server Guy -> SDK Guy

 

Did you catch that? One technology has given me the diversity in my career to absolutely go nuts with a ton of other types of technologies. BusinessObjects, databases, servers, storage, networking, programming, and more I'm sure.  And that, my friends, brings me around to the point.

 

This is my new favorite time to be an SAP-type.  Now we can sprinkle even more new, cool stuff on top.  Add to that technologies and concepts like cloud, mobile, and big data/in-memory magic and it just...keeps...getting better. 

 

One of those conversations I mentioned before....the inspiring kind...  I had the honor of reconnecting with one of my college instructors that is still back at my university teaching, but now also teaching SAP as a part of the SAP University Alliance.  We got to talk about the challenges and cool parts about teaching SAP. Then, something really humbling happened.  She asked me to come in and speak to the upcoming semester's Senior SAP class about my history.  She gave me a free ticket to talk about whatever I want...a blank check.  So I had to sit back and think about what would be best for a Senior to hear today.

 

It actually came to me quite easy, and I will go ahead and spoil that story I'm going to tell those Seniors.  In this field, you can be just about anything, including techno-nerd, business analyst, project manager, manager, director...shoot for the top and you can do it in this field.  My story is proof of that.  On top of that, there is a tremendous community like the SCN and the Diversified Semantic Layer (shameless plug) to back you up.  Some help with a gentle hand and some help with a heavy hand. But either way, there are so many people in this community, and so much information, that it is hard for me to imagine failing unless one just doesn't try.  Too many people have my back and seeing how this community behaves, I think they'd have yours too.  You don't have to be an over-achiever like me and try and take it all on.  Somewhere my wife is nodding "Yes. True.  Stop working and come to dinner".  But you can pick part of what I spoke of before and really become exceptional at it and be important to someone somewhere.  So whether you are new to this particular segment of our IT industry, or a seasoned veteran, think about what got you here and how much there still is left to do.  SAP technologies keep me excited and are what gets me up every morning.

 

PS This is my first SCN blog post.  Be gentle.